January 28th, 2012

Yo, CO! Vinny Retires

I was lucky, when I entered corrections some years ago, that my training instructor was Vinny Nigro. He was a man of exacting standards who had a great sense of humor — mostly at his own expense. (“The inmates call me Abbott,” he said, a reference to the fat member of the Abbott & Costello comedy duo of the 40s and 50s.) That humor was a welcome relief in the boot camp atmosphere of corrections academy in Albany. I wrote about Vinny in Newjack and was glad to learn he wasn’t sore about it. Just the opposite, in fact — he seemed delighted.

Albany Training Academy

This week Vinny retired from the department, after 31 years of service that began when he was 18. And last night I attended his retirement party in Napanoch, New York.

Over 200 people were there — a fitting tribute to a man who was immensely popular among his fellow correction officers (CO’s). Vinny’s humor was in full flower: “I’m 300 pounds but tonight I feel like I’m floating,” I heard him say as I walked in. I was a bit on edge–not everybody in New York corrections loves me. The second person Vinny introduced me to, as it happened, was the guy at Eastern Correctional Facility who tears the seven pages out of Newjack when a prisoner receives a copy in the mail … my censor! But the man seemed perfectly nice and after all, it’s not his idea.

Vinny and his wife, Val, sat me next to Dave Miller, a respected former superintendent of Eastern who, it turns out, had a dog-eared copy of Newjack in his pocket. He teaches it in his course at the local community college, he explained. That made me feel better when the current superintendent, digressing from his roast of Vinny, mentioned that my book had upset a lot of people–a lot of people, he repeated, making me suspect that he was possibly one of them. Soon after came the first of several friendly, joking offers by various people to escort me to my car at evening’s end.

The Legend (left) Has Retired

Fortunately, my presence was gradually forgotten as the night progressed–as it should have been, because it was Vinny’s moment in the sun. Friends remembered hijinks and capers galore, one of my favorites being the wager he placed with a newjack working South Hall at Eastern. “I bet you lunch that I can make all the inmates flush their toilets at the same time,” Vinny was heard to tell the rookie. “You’re on,” said the man. Vinny then stepped out on the flats where all the prisoners could hear him:

Could I please have everyone’s attention? I need everybody to help me by not flushing their toilets for the next couple minutes. We’ve got a sewage problem and it’s all backing up into the CO’s office.

They said the roar of flushing toilets was deafening.

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    6 Comments

  1. Fred Colon says:

    I was at the retirement dinner for Vinny and was glad that you were there to honor one of the most giving and loyal co-worker a person could ever know. Thanks for coming.

  2. Vinny Nigro says:

    What an honor to have Ted attend my retirement party. Just like me, he pissed alot of people off by telling the truth, something some people never want to hear. Thanx Ted !! You truly are a great guy and I’m honored to be your friend 🙂

  3. Margie Anderson says:

    It was a pleasure to finally meet you at Vinny’s party. When you called and asked for directions, I knew you’d make his day! Vinny spoke of you often. Many times when a “Newjack” came to the range for the first time, he would pull out his own signed copy of your book and speak of you fondly. He would say, “I knew he could write! I gave him a great evaluation for the report writing class!”
    Thanks again for attending his party, we really enjoyed hearing you recite a bit of your book. Even if he did have to correct you on that one part. It’s a CAR, a gun, and a divorce. (Bet you’ll never forget that again!) LOL

  4. STEFANIA MARUNIAK says:

    A very fitting tribute to very genuine and good hearted person. It was so good to have you at the retirement party. I know that those who were in attendance appreciated your contribution and reading from your book. Just a great time had by all!

  5. adam krause says:

    I love the updates on your blog about the subjects of your various books (I’ve read them all), and putting faces to names, especially from Rolling Nowhere.
    I am a photographer and made a portrait at Sing Sing for a magazine and I think the subject was loosely referenced in your book. Stepping foot in the prison after reading your book was a very surreal experience.

    thanks for your blog!

  6. Kevin Rosa says:

    Sorry I did not know of the party vin or I would have attended.it was s priveledge in working with you and more so of having you as a true friend. In brotherhood my bro good luck and God s speed.

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